Cheese firm linked to E.coli outbreak continues legal fight

A cheese producer linked to an E.coli outbreak is continuing legal action against a ban on the sale of its products.

Dunsyre Blue was linked to the outbreak. Picture:
Dunsyre Blue was linked to the outbreak. Picture:

Errington Cheese is facing closure unless a blanket sales ban by a food watchdog is overturned before its £350,000 cheese stocks go off.

Food Standards Scotland (FSS) banned the sale of all the firm’s cheese products last month and ordered the destruction of the remaining stock, claiming tests on various types had found strains of E.coli 0157.

Dunsyre Blue from the South Lanarkshire-based firm had been linked to an E.coli outbreak in the summer in which 22 people were infected, including a three-year-old Dunbartonshire girl who died.

The cheese firm claims there is “no evidence” linking the outbreak to the company’s cheese and has accused FSS of being against the production of unpasteurised milk cheese and of placing the British artisan cheese industry “under threat”.

FSS withdrew the destruction order last week but the producer said that until the sales ban is also lifted, £350,000 of stored cheese is at risk of having to be destroyed if it becomes overripe.

The firm said this would lead to the company, which has already laid off its 12 staff members, having to close.

Company founder Humphrey Errington said: “We are acutely conscious that a child has died due to the E.coli outbreak over the summer.

“Our products are being linked to this outbreak by FSS but it has so far failed to provide us with any evidence to support this.

“After lodging our case for a judicial review, FSS has backed down and rescinded its order that the cheese be destroyed, which is tantamount to an admission that they had made a mistake in the first place in ordering destruction.

“We have carried out our own tests using leading laboratories in the UK and Europe and found no trace of E.coli 0157.

“We are therefore continuing to seek a judicial review at the Court of Session in order that Food Standards Scotland’s evidence is made public and open to scrutiny.

“Food Standards Scotland say it could take six months to finalise its report but by that time our cheese will have to be destroyed and our business will be finished.

“This puts the reputation and future of the whole British artisan cheese industry under threat. We have the irony of unpasteurised French cheeses such as Roquefort being imported into Scotland and freely available for sale while a ban exists on our own indigenous cheese.”

An FSS spokesman said: “FSS does not place any restriction on the use of unpasteurised milk in cheese production provided that the milk and the production method used meets legal requirements and does not present a risk to public health.”

He said he was unable to provide further comment on a live legal case.

Health Protection Scotland’s incident management team is producing the report on the outbreak and said it would be published “no later” than the end of March 2017.